An hour northwest of Los Angeles, Ventura is an inviting alternative to larger California coast cities. “Ventura’s mountain, ocean and island views along the southern tip of the California Central Coast offer great inspiration for meeting planners,” says Annie Campbell, sales manager of the Ventura Visitor & Convention Bureau.
Close proximity to the Channel Islands, a onehour boat ride away, also makes for easy access to kayaking, surfing, fishing, scuba diving and sailing. The visitor center for Channel Islands National Park is located on Ventura Harbor.
On land, biking, hiking, shopping and awardwinning golf courses abound. “With a national park just offshore and a locally connected, walkable downtown district, attendees will want to be here,” Campbell continues. “And because Ventura is often more affordable, they will spend less on accommodations and more time enjoying their experience.”
Creative activities for groups include tours of historic or haunted places and architecture; racing classes at the Jim Hall Kart Racing School; and bocce ball tournaments and hot-air balloon rides at Limoneira, a historic ranch and one of the largest providers of lemons and avocados in the U.S.
Ventura County Fairgrounds
Among the larger hotels in the area are the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, located by Ventura Pier, with 258 guest rooms and 19,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space, and the Ventura Beach Marriott, with 285 rooms and 16,276 sq. ft. Hotels for smaller groups to consider are the historic Pierpoint Inn & Spa, a 77- room inn built in 1910 with 10,800 sq. ft. Of meeting space, and the 50-room California-Spanish-style Clocktower Inn Hotel, with more than 2,200 sq. ft. Of space.
The largest meeting venue is the Ventura County Fairgrounds, with 135,000 sq. ft. Of exhibit space and extensive oceanside parklands. An elegant event space is the historic Erle Stanley Gardner Building where the Perry Mason author typed his first manuscripts. Dramatic chandeliers, columns, white marble and decorative moldings enhance this 4,000-square-foot venue for up to 180 attendees.
Alternative event areas include Working Artists Ventura, a LEED-certified live-work space for artists with venues accommodating up to 90 attendees, and the Museum of Ventura County, with a 3,500-square-foot event pavilion that seats up to 200 for dinner and 140 more on the front plaza.
Bacara Resort & Spa
Friendly, walkable and with a near-perfect Mediterranean climate, Santa Barbara is a quintessential California destination between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific. Beach bungalows and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture characterize this coastal area roughly 90 miles northwest of L.A.
“Santa Barbara offers a unique combination of an iconic California beach destination paired with an award-winning wine region,” says Catherine Puccino, national sales manager for the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission. “Attendees can enjoy a walk along the beach in the morning and wine country in the afternoon.” Puccino points out that those short on time can enjoy a sampling of Santa Barbara wine country at tasting rooms in the downtown area.
With more than 60 hotels within a 10-mile radius, planners can find exactly the accommodations they need. Beachfront options include the 354-room Bacara Resort & Spa along the Gaviota coast, with 25,500 sq. ft. Of meeting space; the 207-room Five-Diamond Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara on Montecito’s Butterfly Beach, with 15,000 sq. ft. Of space; and the Four-Diamond Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort Santa Barbara with 360 rooms and 45,000 sq. ft.
Mountain and wine country retreats include the 73-room Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley, with 6,000 sq. ft. Of space. El Capitan Canyon features 109 cedar cabins, 26 safari tents and three yurts on 320 acres, while Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, a Five-Diamond Spanishstyle escape in Los Padres National Forest, has 308 rooms and 48,000 sq. ft. Of space.
Boutique hotels to consider are the beach-chic Hotel Oceana, with 122 rooms and a meeting space that fits up to 40 people; and the environmentally friendly, 41-room Hotel Indigo, a block from the beach with 300 sq. ft. Of meeting space.
Santa Barbara is anticipating the reopening of El Encanto in early 2013. The early 20th-century landmark that served as a popular hideaway for Hollywood’s Golden Era elite is being restored to the high standards of style and service it once epitomized. Recognized as one of California’s finest resorts, it sits upon seven acres of gardens overlooking the Pacific and the Channel Islands. El Encanto will have 92 suites and rooms, including charming individual cottages dating back to the 1920s. The restored California Craftsman-style buildings will house an infinity-edge swimming pool, tennis courts, a stateof- the-art event space and a boutique spa.
A fresh off-site venue is The Loft, an art-filled space in a memorable waterfront setting. The Loft can bring in the best food, music and decor to suit any special event. Local restaurants also welcome groups. Cielito Restaurant, located in the historic La Arcada marketplace, serves up authentic Mexican and South American tapas-style plates. For a Mediterranean feast on downtown’s bustling State Street, Petros has an open-air patio where guests can dine near a geometric fountain, fireplaces, two bars and colorful citrus trees.
Off-site activities in the area range from waterfall hikes and gourmet dining on the beach to strolling through the eclectic Funk Zone neighborhood and a tour of Good Land Organics, an organic farm and the only grower of coffee in California. “Planners enjoy the manageable size of our destination,” says Puccino, “and the diversity of venues and leisure activities that can be worked into programs— everything from water activities and equine interactions to culinary and cultural experiences.”
If you want to experience everything Santa Barbara has to offer, enlist Craving Adventures to create a personalized food, wine and outdoor excursion for groups of up to 10; sushi making, salsa dancing, stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, beer tasting—try it all, hosted or self-guided, complete with local insight and personal touches.
San Luis Obispo County
Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this diverse county is at the heart of the Central Coast, and it includes more than a dozen towns for planners to consider. Molly Cano, director of sales and marketing for the San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau, elaborates: “San Luis Obispo County affords planners the opportunity to embrace the California lifestyle by offering attendees farm-fresh dinning, incredible wines, comfortable accommodations and beautiful views complete with the amenities needed to make a meeting successful.”
With a robust roster of beach, wine and city happenings, visitors to SLO will most likely find themselves reveling in the celebrations. Perfect California weather helps, too. Outdoor excursions, such as kayaking, surfing, biking, hiking, golfing and rock climbing, can be arranged through Central Coast Outdoors. Eco-tour options include picking fruits and vegetables, riding horses, tasting honey, learning about wine and perusing local farm stands. The town’s Art After Dark gallery walk, when attendees can network after hours at local galleries, cafes and studios, occurs the first Friday of every month.
The plaza of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in SLO’s town center is a cultural destination in itself; it hosts performances and events throughout the year, including concerts on Fridays during summer.
For cliff-side accommodations, the Inn at Morro Bay overlooks the 4,000-acre Morro Bay State Park and has more than 10,000 sq. ft. Of space and 98 newly renovated rooms. The largest event space is the Alex Madonna Expo Center with more than 20,000 sq. ft. Within the historic 110-room Madonna Inn. The more modest Embassy Suites San Luis Obispo offers 195 rooms and 15,000 sq. ft. Of space. Courtyard San Luis Obispo has 139 rooms and 5,000 sq. ft. Of space, while Pelican Inn & Suites in coastal Cambria is a quaint choice with 48 rooms and 200 sq. ft. Of space.
“San Luis Obispo County offers meeting planners a diverse selection of meeting locations in both traditional and untraditional settings including wine country, our walkable downtowns, or venues with sweeping ocean views,” says Cano. The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is an excellent off-site option; in the heart of downtown, its various galleries can be rented for private events of up to 110 people. Accommodating groups of 40–400 is the Cambria Pines Lodge along the county’s northern coastline.
Nearby, “Pismo Beach offers the perfect combination of business and pleasure as guests will enjoy oceanfront meeting space, affordable accommodations and a variety of exciting, post-meeting activities,” says Suzen Brasile, executive director of the Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau.
Pismo Beach blends beach-bum fun with an emerging wine scene. Says Brasile, “This fall, hundreds of wine enthusiasts and guests will be among the first to enjoy medal-winning wines paired with local culinary creations as Pismo Beach hosts Sunset magazine’s International Wine Competition.”
Perhaps the most famous group-friendly attraction in this area is Hearst Castle, former home of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, with 165 extravagant rooms and gorgeous gardens.
Among the top hotels are The Cliffs Resort with 160 guest rooms and more than 10,000 sq. ft. Of event space and the 62-room, Four-Diamond Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa with 3,000 sq. ft. Of flexible space. At newly renovated Spyglass Inn, with 82 rooms and 1,500 sq. ft. Of indoor and outdoor space, groups can arrange use of luxury beach cabanas, bonfires and catered beach parties. The Best Western Plus Shore Cliff Lodge, Edgewater Inn and Suites, Hilton Garden Inn San Luis Obispo/ Pismo Beach, SeaVenture Hotel and Pismo Lighthouse Suites also accommodate groups.
While the beach is always there for off-site events, mission-style La Perla del Mar Chapel serves as an inviting space with 1,900 sq. ft. Of Old World charm. With views of the beach and the dunes, the Pismo Beach Golf Course can set up a 4,000-square-foot tent for groups of up to 225.
In neighboring Paso Robles in the Santa Lucia Mountains, planners will find rolling vineyardlaced hills, oak groves, charming historic venues and a friendly vibe. With more than 180 wineries, it has numerous attractions for vinophiles.
“Paso Robles has historic, boutique and branded hotel properties with meeting spaces that serve small to midsize groups. However, being a rich wine region, Paso also offers many unique sites and settings,” says Maryann Stansfield, marketing director for the Travel Paso Robles Alliance. “Meeting planners have access to finished barns in the middle of vineyards, barrel rooms filled with aging wine, beautiful historic ballrooms and underground wine caves all with amenities from catering to Wi-Fi access, not to mention shopping in a thriving historic downtown, olive-oil and cheese tastings at artisan boutiques, wine country and farm tours, and golf and skydiving to round out meeting adventures.” The city’s hotels can host groups of 30–300. Options range from the 130-room Courtyard by Marriott Paso Robles, with more than 1,200 sq. ft. Of event space, to the 91-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Paso Robles, with a 1,150-squarefoot banquet space, to the 16-room Hotel Cheval, featuring a pleasant library space.
Larger off-sites can be held at the Paso Robles Event Center, offering more than 75,000 sq. ft. Across indoor and outdoor venues. The elegant Park Ballroom accommodates up to 200 attendees, while the historic Old Mission San Miguel has indoor and outdoor spaces for up to 185.
Corporate team-building activities include art workshops at Studios on the Park, a wine-blending seminar with First Crush Winemaking and ranch games, stagecoach driving lessons and cookouts with Harris Stage Lines.
Monterey Conference Center
“Monterey County is home to some of the most awe-inspiring views and experiences a traveler could hope for. Using the area as a backdrop for a meeting draws in higher attendance and more inspired conversations,” says Colleen Chen, media relations specialist at the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are a leader in sustainable hospitality and tourism.” Laid-back, artsy Monterey is home to one of the top aquariums and some of the best golf courses in the world. Monterey Bay Aquarium is available for private events and accommodates up to 2,500.
With more than 200 properties and 12,000 rooms, the area has an abundance of hotel and resort options. The largest venue is the Monterey Conference Center downtown. With its partners, the Monterey Marriott and Portola Hotel & Spa, the three form Monterey Meeting Connection, which offers 700 hotel rooms, 61,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space and 19,600 sq. ft. Of function space.
Known as “The Refuge by the Sea” in Pacific Grove, 313-room Asilomar Conference Grounds accommodates groups in 30,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. Cozy cottages, rustic lodges and a dune ecosystem designed by esteemed architect Julia Morgan make Asilomar a notable place. Another gem is Carmel Valley Ranch, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains and spanning nearly 500 acres. An 18-hole Pete Dyedesigned golf course complements 139 rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. Of meeting space. A stay at former Carmel mayor Clint Eastwood’s storied Mission Ranch, with 31 rooms and up to 2,400 sq. ft. Of rustic barn event space, must include a visit to the restaurant, where breathtaking views instantly put guests at ease. Historic Holman Ranch, set against the bucolic hills of Carmel Valley, is a oneof- a-kind venue with eight guest rooms and impressive spaces for retreats and events with up to 150 participants.
Having recently undergone a $3.5 million restoration, oceanside La Playa Carmel has 75 rooms and meeting spaces ranging from 270 to 2,160 sq. ft. Additional hotels to consider include Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa and Embassy Suites Monterey Bay-Seaside.
The Monterey area is inviting at any time of year. However, visiting between October and February, when thousands of monarch butterflies rest in Pacific Grove’s eucalyptus trees as part of their epic and inspiring migration, is likely to result in a meeting that attendees will long remember. Monterey is also one of the state’s largest wine regions, harvesting more than 45,000 acres, and every June attendees can experience this bounty at the Monterey Wine Festival and Carmel Valley Art & Wine Celebration.
Samantha Durbin is an Oakland-raised, L.A.-based California lifestyle writer who enjoys dancing, surfing, swimming, skiing, biking, eating and soaking up art.
Main image: Ventura Beach
Gastropubs, BBQ & Craft Distilleries
Central California has had an influx of new dining experiences. The Arlington Tavern in Santa Barbara is a new venue for gourmet gastropub grub with an outdoor lounge and lively bar area, able to accommodate groups of up to 100. The New Black BBQ (pictured) is Santa Barbara’s mobile eatery, serving up “progressive American barbecue” that draws from the traditions and memories associated with the letters “BBQ” and combines them with evolved techniques and eclectic style. Paso Robles Craft Distilling utilizes local grapes in conjunction with the Villacana Winery to create high-end vodka and gin. Barrelhouse 101 is Ventura’s latest gastropub; it serves 101 beers, including local and small brews, alongside fish and chips, short-rib sliders and monster-sized onion rings.
–Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau: seemonterey.com
–Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce: pasorobleschamber.com
–Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau: pismobeach.org
–San Luis Obispo County Visitors & Conference Bureau: sanluisobispocounty.com
–Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission: santabarbaraca.com
–Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau: ventura-usa.com